The Strangers' Gallery
I imagined another fresco being uncovered a hundred years hence, under the layers of alien Canadian stone—a gentleman with a most forbidding expression on his face. Miles was even more finely attuned to the House’s spiritual dimensions, to the sad iniquitous history of the place.
    The speaker on Monday evening, a geneticist named Dr. Eugene Legge, had stepped down from the lofty heights of science to enlighten us laymen about what he called “the Genome Project”; but engaging and humble though he was, not patronizing in the least, he was obviously young and inexperienced. He would have been more at home in an intimate and congenial uni-disciplinary colloquium than in the larger and rougher public forums, where loose cannons, axe-grinders, shit disturbers, autodidacts, and self-styled debaters and disputers of anything and everything lay in ambush, along with other academics and genuinely knowledgeable laymen, wary defenders of other turfs, academic and otherwise, including
le turf de Terre-Neuve
.
    From the very beginning of the talk, Miles began to mutter and sigh desolately, to bristle and stir uneasily in his seat. I half expected him not to wait until the end of the talk, but to jump up and interrupt right in the middle of it, or perhaps leave the room altogether. He held his asthma inhaler—his “puffer,” as he called it—on standby in his right hand, and seemed to be taking more than the usual number of inhalations as the talk wore on. Toward the end, in an attempt to help his lay audience visualize the mysterious internal world of the DNA molecule, Dr. Legge presented us with a rather fascinating analogy, fascinating for me, at least. He compared the cell, or its nucleus, to a library or archive—we were inside an archive ourselves, he reminded us—containing all of life’s instructions: Primary Source writ large, or small. The chromosomes, containing DNA, are the bookshelves, he said; the DNA molecules are the books; the genes are chapters in the books; and the chemical compounds that make up our DNA are the words, the letters, on the page. There are only four, he said—A, C, G, T—representing the base (base!) organic compounds that make up our entire flesh and blood; but this mini-alphabet, repeated millions of times in different sequences of paired letters, contains the unique genetic makeup of every individual human being ever born.
    We were shown a slide of a free-standing, twenty-three-foot-high model of the DNA molecule, the double helix, made up of five hundred encyclopedias symbolically depicting the vast amount of archival information contained within. Scientists were already inside the archive, he said, working away. They had broken the genetic code, had learned the language, were busily mapping our genes, and would ultimately decode all three billion pairs of letters in the so-called language of inheritance, life’s blueprint, the human story. It would not take very long, he predicted.
    Miles’s legs began to shake, piston-like, and his entire body seemed to emit a high-voltage emotional current, a hum of adversarial intent. I could tell, however, that he was not having a seizure, a stroke, or a heart attack in response to Dr. Legge’s rather innocent analogy, not even an asthma attack, but rather what we archivists had begun to call, in mock reference to Heritage Canada’s soupy Heritage Moments on television, and even before the main features on the silver screen, a major archival moment.
    When the talk was over, beneath a gentle shower of polite applause, I sensed an inauspicious stirring beside me, and Miles, with athletic alacrity and a thundery look—
Drop down dew from heaven above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness—
was on his feet with his hand in the air, but was not recognized by the chair. (I didn’t recognize the chair myself, though he looked familiar; he had forgotten to introduce himself before

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